WHAT’S ALL THE FUSS ABOUT “EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT”?

A conversation with Jamie Parker, Chief Mission Officer, Greenough, and Janet Swaysland, Engagement Strategist, Bluefire Partners

Janet Swaysland

Nothing like a few Harvard Business Review covers to focus attention on something most of us have always known is true: Organizational culture matters, and you can do something about it. The impact on performance is there; what was once considered “soft” is now supported by hard data. All this, coupled with fierce competition for talent and eroding trust in employers, means companies have to work much harder to be a great place for people to do great work with great results. I sat down with colleague Janet Swaysland of Bluefire Partners to understand how employee engagement yields significant organizational results.

Jamie Parker (JP): HOW IS THIS RELEVANT TO MARKETERS AND PR PEOPLE? OUR FOCUS IS STAKEHOLDERS OUTSIDE THE WALLS.

Janet Swaysland (JS): Three things. If there’s a disconnect between your brilliant brand or PR campaign and what’s real inside the organization, you will fail. The people charged with producing the customer experience and value for shareholders – employees – will be vocal and unforgiving in calling bull@#*t on claims and language that aren’t aligned with their own experience. If they are last to find out things about their own company, you will fail. They lose trust and motivation when they find out about their own company late or from the outside (which happens all the time).  Second, employees are the most potent brand ambassadors, the ultimate amplifiers with highly relevant networks, and they are the most trusted sources of information and stories about their company. So, any communications planning or campaign development should, at a minimum, consider the interests of employees; even better is involving employees in the planning process itself.

JP: WHO “OWNS” EMPLOYEE COMMUNICATION AND ENGAGEMENT IN THE ORGANIZATION? HOW DO YOU WORK ACROSS FUNCTIONS TO MAKE IT ALL ADD UP FOR EMPLOYEES?

JS:  Responsibility for engaging employees varies and is shifting as companies recognize its rising importance. Employee communication historically sat in the HR department, since all the transactional stuff like benefits, payroll and compliance came from there. Then other functions had news and information they wanted employees to know and pretty soon it’s an overwhelming mess of random communication coming at employees. Now, employee communication is moving to a senior corporate communications role, or rolls up into the CMO’s function, or maybe there’s a progressive Chief People Officer sort of role. In any case, it has to be a close working relationship between communications and HR. Find the common ground – what is each function trying to accomplish, and how can you work at the intersection to collaborate on both goals?

JP: WHAT ARE THE BEST COMPANIES DOING TO TRULY ENGAGE EMPLOYEES IN WAYS THAT SUPPORT BUSINESS GOALS AND PRIORITIES?

JS: The best companies start with data. Just like they would in any other part of the business. They ask: Where are we today? What do our people think and feel about working here? What are our cultural strengths, and where can we improve? Do employees understand our vision and strategy? Do they feel they have a voice? What pockets of the organization are struggling or hitting it out of the park more than others? What’s rising in importance? It’s just amazing to me that so many organizations skip this step, this habit, and operate so tactically, wasting time and resources on what doesn’t really matter. In what other part of the business would you be willing to fly so blind? Nowhere. And there are now excellent tools and technology – vastly updated engagement surveys and pulse monitoring platforms and apps – that in themselves are engaging experiences for employees.

One bonus feature of knowing how your organization is doing is that you might land on Fortune’s “best company” or the Boston Globe’s “top workplaces” list. That kind of recognition pays huge dividends in developing your employer brand and a more competitive recruitment position.

JP: HOW CAN MARKETERS INFLUENCE AND HELP CREATE AN EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE THAT ALIGNS WITH EXTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS PRIORITIES?

JS: First, you should bring your marketing expertise to serving and engaging the employee “audience.” Employees are people, just like customers and shareholders – so help HR and/or other leaders understand what matters to employees, how best to reach them. Understand the different segments within the organization, they work, and what they need. Understand what else is going on in their lives at work – where is change happening that can help or distract? (Personas, a little ethnography, anyone?) Advocate for the same quality of content for employees as you develop for external audiences. Apply the same science in metrics and optimization that’s standard for external campaigns. And, of course, bring me in to help you sort it all out and make the right things happen.

http://bluefirepartners.com/